Relevance to India

While countries with comparatively low particulate pollution are concerned, the Indian administration is complacent

Published: Wednesday 15 December 1999

Relevance to India

The aiims emergency room daily receives about 150 patients. Over 100,000 patients were examined for the study, which focused on patients with aggravated symptoms of asthma, chronic bronchitis and heart ailments. The study found that tspm was highest in November and December; and, so were the hospital admissions. Number of patients reporting with cardio-respiratory problems increased sharply in these two months and declined rapidly in the following months when the tspm levels dropped. The fact that admissions declined in January showed that cold weather alone was not responsible for increase in heart ailments.

Otherwise, the only study on air pollution and human health in India came from the World Bank in 1995. This study had categorically stated that small particulate emissions, like pm10, and gases like so2 are responsible for over 95 per cent of the health damage. Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment repeated the study by substituting the cpcb air quality data for 1991-92 by the corresponding 1995 data and found that the number of premature deaths had increased in all cities from 40,351 in 1991-92 to 51,779 in 1995 and in Delhi from 7,491 to 9,859 respectively. This means one death per hour due to air pollution in the capital.

The situation in Delhi is particularly bad because of the cocktail of pollution recorded on a daily basis, in which several pollutants exceed the air quality standards at the same time (see box: Danger signals ). "If the small particle pollution levels in California ever reached the same levels as Delhi, Californian environment authorities would have declared an emergency. All emission sources in the city would have been shut down and vehicles taken off the road," said Shankar Prasad of carb.

On the other hand, the publication of air quality data in India takes more than two-three years, making air quality monitoring a purely academic exercise. Informing the public about the quality of the air on a daily basis is a far cry. If we apply the Mexican criteria of declaring emergencies on the basis of particulate level in Delhi, the city will be closed for almost half the year (see box: Crying out loud ).

Although scientific information will always be inadequate, keeping in view the primacy of being pre-warned and exercise precaution, it is important to act on time. Martin Williams of the department of environment and transport and the regions Air and Environment Quality Division in uk writes: "Uncertainty in science should not be used as an excuse for postponing action. Where there are emerging scientific reasons for going further, it is the business of those concerned with policy to find a common ground on which policy can move on risk assessment and risk management." Time the Indian administration paid heed to this approach.

With inputs from Anumita Roychowdhury and Priti Kumar.

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